Every time I’m in trouble I call on you, confident that you’ll answer

Sometimes you just need a Psalm…. This version is The Message, a really stunning paraphrase. You can also read it in the New Living Translation, but this version really struck a chord with me today.

Got any bullies after you today? And, no, they don’t have to be people. Sometimes the worst bullies in our lives are intangible. Anxiety and fear. Depression and despair. Anger and frustration. And insecurity. Just because a bully can’t physically touch you doesn’t make it less harmful. And just because it’s not physical doesn’t mean God can’t help you overcome it.

Psalm 86

person-young-woman-girl-7306Bend an ear, God; answer me.
I’m one miserable wretch!
Keep me safe—haven’t I lived a good life?
Help your servant—I’m depending on you!
You’re my God; have mercy on me.
I count on you from morning to night.
Give your servant a happy life;
I put myself in your hands!
You’re well-known as good and forgiving,
bighearted to all who ask for help.
Pay attention, God, to my prayer;
bend down and listen to my cry for help.
Every time I’m in trouble I call on you,
confident that you’ll answer.

There’s no one quite like you among the gods, O Lord,
and nothing to compare with your works.
All the nations you made are on their way,
ready to give honor to you, O Lord,
Ready to put your beauty on display,
parading your greatness,
And the great things you do—
God, you’re the one, there’s no one but you!

Train me, God, to walk straight;
then I’ll follow your true path.
Put me together, one heart and mind;
then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you, dear Lord;
I’ve never kept secret what you’re up to.
You’ve always been great toward me—what love!
You snatched me from the brink of disaster!
God, these bullies have reared their heads!
A gang of thugs is after me—
and they don’t care a thing about you.
But you, O God, are both tender and kind,
not easily angered, immense in love,
and you never, never quit.
So look me in the eye and show kindness,
give your servant the strength to go on,
save your dear, dear child!
Make a show of how much you love me
so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed,
As you, God, gently and powerfully
put me back on my feet.

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God’s love reaches farther than you can run away

Cats are constant at Safe Haven Farm. Except for a few recent years, we have always have a kitten or two around. The most recent litter we welcomed had seven, although unfortunately the other wildlife around the farm didn’t allow that to last very long. We have owls and snakes and coyotes, and four of the seven vanished overnight. But we still had three. Until we woke up a few days ago and found only one remaining.

I was pretty torn up about that. This litter had made it so long, and I’d hoped that they would continue to do well. And even when we lost the four, we still had the three others. But only one left? Sad.

So yesterday morning when we went outside and found all three of them back like nothing had happened, we were pretty happy. The two beige kittens had gone off exploring and took their time coming back. Having them home again was a relief. And it got me thinking about homecomings in general and why they mean so much to us.

A wide-eyed kitten at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A wide-eyed kitten at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Joel 2:12-14.

That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.
Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve,
sending you a blessing instead of this curse.
Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wine
to the Lord your God as before.

Everybody reaches that point in their life where they need to go home again. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or even how old you are. Home is a part of us on the very basic level, and we all have to go back. That is, assuming we’ve left.

The older I get, the more I see the importance of making God your home. I love my house. I love my family. I love the close friends who mean so much to me. And while they all provide me with a certain level of comfort, they can’t match the safety and the refuge I find in my Lord. He’s always there for me. He always knows what I mean, whether I say it or not. He knows when I hurt, which is important because I rarely talk about that sort of thing out loud. He’s always around to remind me that He’s big enough for whatever problem I’m facing, and I can’t ever go far enough away that He can’t find me.

But He’s easy to run away from. Not saying you can actually outrun Him, but we all like to try. He’s just more stubborn than we are, and He won’t ever let us go.

I don’t think we can grasp the joy God feels when we turn around and come home after we’ve been wandering. Imagine being reunited with a close friend you lost contact with. You knew they were out there, but they just weren’t interested in talking to you anymore, and then all of a sudden, they’re back again. And your friendship can pick up where you left off, and you can start living life together again. Then magnify that a million and a half times.

If you’ve left home, if you’ve run away from God, turn back now. It’s tempting to keep running, believing that your actions outweigh the love He has for us, but that’s a lie the enemy whispers to keep you running scared. God’s love is stronger than anything else, especially your screw-ups.

But don’t just turn your face back to God. Don’t just make a show for the sake of people around you. God doesn’t care how impressive you look or how many words you can pray or how well you know your Bible. What matters to God is your heart.

God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card

Everybody screws up. It’s just part of life. And when you screw up, you should do what you can to make amends. You should pay what you owe. You should take responsibility for your actions, and often that means facing up to the consequences of your choice.

Maybe you have to pay a fine or fee. Maybe you have to do community service. Maybe it’s something like losing privileges at work or even at home. Either way, it takes a good deal of humility to accept punishment or correction after you’ve done something wrong. It’s a lot easier to play the role of a victim, but if you choose that route, you’ll never learn what you need to learn.

Either way, don’t be surprised when consequences come your way after you make a choice. Good or bad, every action causes a reaction, but unlike physics, consequences are rarely equal or opposite of your original choice. If you make a bad choice, you’ll always face bad consequences, and usually they’ll be on a much larger scale.

So what about grace? If we’re saved and we follow Jesus, doesn’t that mean we’re in the clear? Doesn’t that mean we don’t have to face the consequences for our actions?

3BBC051F8BToday’s verses are Romans 6:14-16.

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 

Christ-followers, we get this whole grace vs. consequences concept all turned around somehow. When Christ saved us from our sins, He freed us from our eternal death sentence in hell. That’s grace. That’s 100% right. If you trust that the price for your soul is paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross alone, you’re saved. Absolutely.

But what happens if you take something that doesn’t belong to you? What happens if you lie or cheat or gossip? Do you think you’ll get away with it? Or when you get caught (because you will get caught), do you think people will just let it go? Do you actually think you won’t have to face some kind of consequence for the bad choices you make?

Because of God’s grace, we won’t face hell if we belong to Christ. But if we choose to sin, we will have to face the results of our choices. Like sowing and reaping. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. It’s a natural law.

We blunder through life making foolish decisions without asking God what’s right. We run over people. We run into people. We hurt others without thinking. We selfishly chase our own ambitions and ignore God’s warnings. We do it our way because our way is easier, faster, more fun. And we end up doing things God says we shouldn’t do. And then we’re shocked when God expects us to take responsibility. We accuse Him of abandonment. We shake our fist at heaven and demand to know why He’s treating us this way.

Friends, God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card. We still have a responsibility to live a life that honors Christ. And, no, there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love, but God loves us enough to not let us act in ways that will ultimately lead to our own destruction.

But God is so good. Even in the midst of our own messes, God is still with us. He’ll step in and give us strength to face our consequences. He’ll give us wisdom when we need it, patience when we need it, peace when we ask for it. But that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Are you facing consequences today because you made a wrong choice? Or because someone in your life made a wrong choice? Don’t be a victim. Maybe you are innocent in all of it, but take the opportunity to get humble before God anyway. Accept responsibility. Own up to it. And ask God to help you face the consequences of your actions with faith.

He has never turned anyone away who came to Him truly seeking. He won’t stop now.

God is more than enough

Everybody has trouble. It’s just a part of life, but how we deal with the difficulties we’re facing says a lot about who we are. Do you hide when trouble comes your way? That’s understandable. Some trouble is just too much to face, and it’s so much easier to avoid dealing with it entirely than it is to confront it.

The problem is that you can’t hide forever. You can’t run forever. Some trouble keeps popping up. It just won’t die. And running from it or hiding from it only delays the inevitable. So what do you do when you can’t escape?

8J6SO4AGN0_1594x1196Today’s verses are Psalm 138:7-8.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
and the power of your right hand saves me.
The LORD will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever.
Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

If you’re a Christ-follower, God’s got you. That doesn’t mean you can disobey Him and expect no consequences. He loves us too much to let us get away with behavior that will hurt us and those around us. But when you face trouble that’s more than you can bear, He’ll be there with us to help us overcome it.

There’s no trouble in the world that’s bigger than God is. God is bigger than anyone or anything else in the world. It’s an inconvenient truth when we want our own way, because that means we have to surrender our stubborn will to God’s. But when we’re in trouble? When life is too much for us to handle, it’s nice to know that God is more than enough.

God’s got a wonderful plan in mind for each of us, and He’s promised to work everything together for our good and His glory. He’s the only one big enough to make that promise and keep it. So whatever you’re going through today, don’t give up on God. You may feel like He’s abandoned you, but He hasn’t. Even if you feel a million miles away from Him, He’s holding you in His hand, and He won’t let go. So stop fighting Him and let Him have His way.

Even in the darkness, you never walk alone

Have you ever been in a situation that goes from bad to worse? I mean, before you even have a chance to wrap you brain around the first problem, another one pops up? It’s like trying to catch waves on the beach. Just when you think you’ve stopped one in its tracks, it slips away, only to knock you over with a bigger one.

Everybody knows that life is like that, but there’s this idea that following Jesus isn’t. And that’s a lie. If anything, following Jesus just makes life feel harder sometimes. Because you know what’s wrong with the world, but you can’t do anything to fix it. You even know what’s wrong with yourself, but you have the same problem. And regardless of how sad you feel or how alone you feel or how useless you feel, you’re not supposed to let on, right? You’re just supposed to keep that happy face plastered on so nobody will think your faith is weak.

Well, friends, just being honest here … that’s silly.

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.

This is Paul talking. The Paul. This man had an encounter with Jesus Himself. He’s responsible for penning most of the New Testament. And this is him talking about his great achievements, right? How he always faced difficulty with a stiff upper lip and a spring in his step?

If you got that out of the passage above, I suggest reading it again.

Paul was always honest about what He was feeling. He wasn’t the emotional type, like Peter, but he never hesitated to let people know what was on his heart. This man was a leader of the Early Church, and right here he’s admitting that he nearly gave up! He expected that he was going to die.

But….

I love that word but. It means that the story isn’t over. It means that there’s something better coming.

But … Paul said when he realized the situation was beyond his control, he learned to rely on God. Oh, if only I could learn that lesson too. In those moments when life is too much for me (they come frequently), if I could just remember to trust God, I think I would see my situation much differently.

It’s not easy, because you keep thinking there’s something you ought to be doing. And maybe there is, but most of the time what needs to happen is beyond your control anyway. You need to let go, and you need to trust that God will bring a solution when it’s time.

I love what Paul says. That God rescued them from mortal danger, and that He would do it again. That rescuing them was something God would continue to do. Not just something He did once or twice. Not just something He did in the past. He would always come to their rescue when they needed Him.

There’s no shame in admitting you feel lost and confused. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you’re lonely or angry or sad. We all feel that way. We all want to give up. We all experience that moment of balancing on the brink, where one wrong move might send us toppling over. But God’s pretty good at rescuing people. He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s good at putting pieces back together again too.

The world is a dark place. It’s full of hurt and hurting people and broken dreams and sorrow, but you don’t have to walk it alone. God is strong enough to get us through it. He’ll come alongside us and walk with us and help us. No matter how dark the darkness gets, you don’t have to face it by yourself.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Why repeat experiences aren’t always bad

Rochester, MN, is a nice little city. I’m not sure what the population is, but it’s big enough to have a decent downtown area–although I’m fairly certain most of the downtown is the Mayo Clinic.

That’s why we’re up here again, the third time this year. Visiting the Mayo Clinic. It’s a long, complicated story that’s taken up the better part of two years, but we’re hoping this trip will actually provide us with answers regarding my mom’s health.

What is really interesting to me this third time visiting Rochester is how not-stressed I am about the whole thing. Six months ago, I was uncertain. Seven months ago, I was a nervous wreck.

The first time we came up here, it was winter. Minnesota in March. Just where you want to spend vacation time, right? The snow drifts were taller than my car. Without the wind chill, it was 30 below outside. None of us knew where we were going. We didn’t know where to check in, who to talk to, where to eat or even what we could eat.

But now, in September, we’re all very comfortable in Rochester. Not like it’s a second home or anything, but it certainly is more familiar than it was. But that’s how life works. The things we’ve already experienced don’t stress us out like the things we haven’t, and because we’ve experienced all of this before, we know what’s coming.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 5:3-5.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. 

One thing I’ve learned about life: Oftentimes you have to experience the same things over and over again before you learn anything. Looking back, it blows my mind how many times God has had to put me through the same frustrating circumstances just to get me to pay attention.

But if I can get over being frustrated, if I can look past having to go through the same stuff over and over again, I can start to see part of what He’s doing.

You don’t build endurance by running one race. You have to run a lot of races. You don’t build character by making the right choice once. You have to make the right choice many times. And you don’t truly understand God’s grace the first time He steps in to Help you when you don’t deserve it. You have to experience that many times before it really sinks in just how much He loves you and just how little you deserve His love.

Just because you have to go through the same frustrating circumstances over and over again doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Granted, it may mean you aren’t paying attention to what God wants you to learn. Or it may just be that you need training.

So if you’re experiencing the same trial for the second, third or even fourth time, take a step back and do a heart check. Make sure your attitude is what it’s supposed to be. Make sure you’re open to learning or accepting what God may want to show you. And if you are, then just sit back and wait because God has something to teach you. He won’t bring you somewhere to leave you there without teaching you something.

Just because you have to go through something more than once doesn’t make you wrong or doesn’t mean God is punishing you. It could just be that He’s preparing you for something awesome.

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Grace when we make mistakes

Grace. We talk about it, but do we really get it? We’re thankful for it, but do we really understand what it means for us and our lives?

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming lilacs at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 2:4-9.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

I hate making mistakes.

No, you don’t understand. I hate making mistakes.

I. Hate. It.

Sometimes the mistakes I make turn out to be something that couldn’t be avoided. Other times, mistakes turn out to be issues that I could have stopped if I’d thought about it or worked harder or dug deeper. And that just happened the other day. If I had only dug a little deeper, slowed down and asked one more question, I could have prevented this rather large and expensive mistake from ever occurring.

But I didn’t. I forged ahead, confident in what I was doing. Or so worried about the clock I just chose not to take the time to think about it.

It’s one thing to make a mistake that embarrasses you. It’s another thing to make an embarrassing mistake that costs money. And that’s where I ended up. Not my best day ever.

It was obviously my fault. I made a judgment call and it was wrong, and the people affected had every right to be angry with me. But they weren’t. And believe me I tried pointing out different ways I could have prevented it and then suggested suitable punishments to atone. And they wouldn’t hear of it.

That’s grace. People hurt by my carelessness choosing to pay for it themselves instead of holding it over my head—when they have every right to.

We appreciate grace when people extend it to us. But do we appreciate it enough to extend it to others? That’s the question staring me in my mind right now. If the situation were reversed and someone had cost me time and money, would I respond the same way? Would I extend grace to them?

I hope I would.

And all of this just comes down to one unavoidable truth: God forgives us for so much more than mistakes. God forgives us for sin.

I was miserable for hours after I realized what had happened with this, until I found out that nobody hated me, that nobody was holding it against me. But for those few hours, I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. All I could think about was how I’d screwed up and how they were well within their rights to punish me or dock my pay or something—anything.

And when I finally calmed down, the only thing I could think about was how my life would look without God’s grace? If I couldn’t have peace until I’d experienced by boss’s grace, how much more of a wreck would I be without God?

Do we ever think about that? I mean, seriously. I take it for granted all the time. I’ve gotten used to the idea of walking around living life forgiven. That’s my life. I’m forgiven. I’m free. What do I have to worry about?

That’s so true, but let’s never—never ever—forget what Jesus had to go through so we could live that kind of life.

Don’t forget what it means to you and never hesitate to extend it to someone else. Nobody deserves it, but God hands it out freely. So we should too.

Don’t take it for granted.